Inspector general defends ordinance allowing city to release his most serious reports

Joe Ferguson says the only way to overcome mistrust of government is to release his most sensitive investigative reports, including those into the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the death of David Koschman.

SHARE Inspector general defends ordinance allowing city to release his most serious reports
Inspector General Joe Ferguson says changes ordered by the City Council simply mirror reporting requirements already followed by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Inspector General Joe Ferguson says changes ordered by the City Council simply mirror reporting requirements already followed by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Under fire from the Fraternal Order of Police, Inspector General Joe Ferguson on Monday defended a new ordinance empowering the city to release his most serious and sensitive investigative reports.

“The public doesn’t trust government. And it’s not just Chicago government. It’s government generally. So, the only way to really have confidence, at least in this generation of things, is to put the information out there,” Ferguson told the Sun-Times.

For years, Ferguson’s reports on the police shooting of Laquan McDonald and the death of David Koschman have been kept under wraps because city laws required confidentiality.

That’s about to change in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s quest to deliver on her signature campaign promise to “shine the light” on wrongdoing.

Late last month, the City Council approved a Lightfoot-championed ordinance giving Chicago’s corporation counsel power to release Ferguson’s reports when they involve “sustained findings regarding conduct that either is associated with a death or is, or may be, a felony as defined in the Illinois Criminal Code and is of a compelling public interest.”

The ordinance widened the rift between the new mayor and the Fraternal Order of Police and may have opened the door to a court challenge.

“The Fraternal Order of Police has articulated in several instances our strongly-held belief that the Inspector General’s office, particularly under Joe Ferguson, is often little more than a political witch hunt of our members, none more so than the manner by which his office generated criminal indictments of the three officers in connection with the Laquan McDonald shooting. Those officers, tried by special prosecutor Patricia Holmes, were acquitted,” the union said in a statement last month.

“That the Ethics Committee and the mayor would increase the frequency and magnitude by which cases against the police will be tried in the media, and not in a courtroom, is shocking and disappointing, particularly since the Chicago media itself is so corrupt and so engrained in the anti-police movement.”

On Monday, Ferguson responded to the union’s complaints of anti-police bias.

“They’re advocates. They’re representing the membership the way that they see fit. We gather the evidence. We report the facts. We make our recommendations. They disagree. They speak their minds. And sometimes, they speak it more colorfully than we do,” he said.

The inspector general argued that the changes ordered by the City Council simply mirror reporting requirements already followed by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

Now, Ferguson said, IG reports are in what he called a “complete confidentiality cone,” so when his office looks into police matters, “less is known publicly,” he added.

“This just brings it into alignment” with COPA, he said.

Ferguson disagreed with the union’s claim that the ordinance violates the police contract.

But, he said, “The FOP has a right to take it to arbitration if they want. We’ll just have to let the process bear itself out.”

After the City Council approved the ordinance, Lightfoot hinted strongly at the imminent release of Ferguson’s reports on the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Still, no reports have been released.

Ferguson said the delay has to do with the sheer number of reports.

There are 16 separate reports — one for each officer for whom he recommended disciplinary action for their role in covering for convicted former Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, who fired the 16 shots that killed the African-American teenager.

Ferguson recommended the firing of twelve of the officers and suspensions for the four others.

The Law Department is now “going through a line-by-line review to make sure that there is nothing that the law prohibits disclosure of that’s contained in the reports and make sure they’re redacted properly,” Ferguson said.

“My understanding is, within a week or so, all sixteen of those reports will be” released, he said.

The Latest
The former Sun-Times and Tribune sportswriter died Wednesday at 72.
The man was arguing with a person he knew in the 3800 block of North Keeler Avenue when they pulled out a gun and fired at him.
With legal troubles behind him, the Chicago native will play the Lyrical Lemonade Summer Smash Festival on Sunday — his first performance in the area in over 10 years.
Give the mayor credit. The $30,000 he spent on his hair and makeup didn’t come from taxpayers. He used campaign funds. That’s something.
Chip Caray, the Cardinals’ TV voice, will call the Cards-Cubs game Sunday with Cubs analyst Jim Deshaies and Marquee Sports Network field reporter Elise Menaker. First pitch is scheduled for 12:05 p.m.